Is this seventh-generation model the most important Corvette since the 1953 original - or is it best consigned to history?

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Six decades and as many model generations of perennial sales success have already assured the Chevrolet Corvette of its place in the automotive hall of fame.

The Corvette’s heritage rivals that of any European sports car. The first generation was launched in 1953, but it was the second that was dubbed Sting Ray – despite the mako shark being among the inspirations for its appearance.

The Chevrolet's LT1 6.2-litre V8 produces 460bhp and is an integral part of the Corvette's character

The name fell out of use from the mid-1970s, but the Corvette has continued as a staple of Chevrolet’s line-up. The C6 Corvette was sold for eight years. It included the C6 Corvette ZR1 — the sole recipient of the LS9, the most powerful engine ever used in a GM production car.

The US’s favourite sports car is a legend in its own back yard, but huge popularity at home has held this car back by allowing it to dodge the advancing standards of Europe’s sporting best. General Motors simply never needed the export volume.

Until now, that is, and the arrival of this seventh-generation Corvette. With this car, GM has broadened its horizons and ambitions, which is why this ‘C7’ Corvette has got a lightweight aluminium frame, carbonfibre panels, direct fuel injection and a great deal more. It’s also why it has been renamed ‘Stingray’ – an honour bestowed on only two of its predecessors. But Chevrolet weren't done there, unearthing another name from its history in the shape of the Grand Sport as a homage to the 1963 race car.

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This version has been through an intensive retuning program for Europe, and it comes with a much richer standard specification on our side of the pond than it does in the US. Despite the European withdrawal of the Chevrolet brand, it’s a car us Brits can still buy – albeit in left-hand-drive form. So should we?


Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray rear

True to its roots but renewed to meet modern tastes, the Corvette remains a sports car of a singular type. Little else in cardom looks as low or as long as this car in profile.

The Corvette’s short suspension turrets facilitate that low bonnet height, while the roofline of that swept-back cabin is also extra-low – even by sports car standards. The net result is that while this car is barely a couple of millimetres longer than a Porsche 911, it appears much longer and sleeker. It looks like almost nothing else on the road, in fact, and little short of show-stopping.

The bonnet is one of two carbonfibre panels, the removable roof being the other

Underneath the Corvette’s panels (plastic composite for the most part, with a carbonfibre bonnet and removable hard-top roof) you’ll find a redesigned box-section frame. Now in aluminium, it’s 60 per cent stiffer than the aluminium one from the outgoing C6 Corvette ZR1, and also 45kg lighter than the steel frame of the regular sixth-generation Corvette.

Hung from that frame are new hollow-cast aluminium chassis subframes and unequal-length double wishbones for both the front and rear suspension. Instead of coil springs, Chevrolet continues with composite transverse leaf springs because they create the compactness that delivers the Corvette’s jaw-dropping looks – and its generous boot space. In official European-spec cars, those leaf springs are teamed with adaptive magnetorheological dampers as standard.

The engine providing the motive power is a Chevy small-block V8 – it would have to be – but it’s anything but antiquated. The oversquare, 6162cc powerplant, codenamed LT1, is naturally aspirated and comes with direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation.

With 465lb ft, it makes 50lb ft more than the previous model’s V8 and promises combined fuel economy of 24mpg. Driving through a seven-speed manual transmission (the only option available on European cars), it also promises to propel this new Stingray to 60mph from rest in just 4.2sec.

The easiest way to get hold of a new Stingray in the UK will probably be to buy one from an independent ‘grey’ importer — but it may not be the smartest way to buy one. GM Europe fits all of its official imports of the car with Chevrolet’s ‘Z51’ performance upgrade as standard, as well as providing a warranty and retuning its cars for European roads.

The Z51 package is about more than uprated dampers and a racing stripe, mind. Granted, it does bring with it new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. But it also includes Chevrolet’s electronically controlled limited-slip differential, dry-sump lubrication for the engine, a shorter final drive for the transmission, larger wheels and tyres and better brakes.

More importantly, it buys you dedicated cooling systems for the transaxle transmission and differential. Without those, GM insiders admit, the car’s drivetrain has a tendency to overheat during track use and at prolonged high speeds on the autobahn. The latter is unlikely to be a problem, of course, on 55mph-limited American roads.


Corvette C7 Stingray interior

As is Chevrolet’s recent theme, this Corvette has two seats and a boot that lies beneath a large hatch. And, as is a continued theme, the perceived quality and fit and finish have been improved, but only to a point that now feels half a decade or so behind that of Europe’s best.

Chevrolet reckons the interior design is jet fighter cockpit-inspired. That may well be a notion we put to bed, but there’s no denying things are focused towards the driver, who gets a fairly pleasing view.

A customisable heads-up display relays vital information, usefully preventing you from having to take your eyes off the road

There are clear dials, with an analogue speedo and fuel gauge flanking a digital display that’s configurable to show, at various sizes, the revcounter, a digital speed readout, navigation information, performance or trip computer readings. Some of that is replicated again in the standard, configurable head-up display.

That leaves the centre console’s touchscreen to deal with the entertainment and navigation. It’s controlled by both a knob and a few buttons beneath it, and by touch response on the screen itself. It’s one of the less intuitive systems we’ve used, but there’s no faulting the number of facilities it accommodates.

We had no problem pairing phones with it, but the graphical quality is average. Audio is good, though, and while the nav menus take some working out, the suggested routes are sensible and redirect quickly if you stray off them.

On the rather large transmission tunnel – where most of the chassis’ rigidity comes from – there’s a dial and push-switch combination that deals only with the modes for the suspension and transmission.

The driving position is good. The optional seats of our test car were more supportive than those we’re accustomed to in American cars, while the steering wheel is small.

The pedals and gear lever require some heft by modern standards, but none of our testers minded that. Happily, the Corvette’s boot is also respectably accommodating and wide at the back – because it’s American, and not accepting golf clubs is a sin. It’s shallow, though, but at least it’s lengthy.

There are only two trim levels to choose from - 2LT and 3LT for those opting for the C7 Stingray, while those opting for the sportier Grand Sport only have the choice of the 3LT trim or the limited Collector's Edition car. 2LT trimmed Corvettes come equipped with Chevy's Z51 Performance Package, which includes: magnetic adaptive suspension, performance active exhaust system, electronic slip differential, Brembo brakes and run-flat Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. There is also keyless entry and start, 360-degree camera system, cruise control, electrical adjustable and heated and ventilated seats, dual-zone climate control and a leather upholstery as standard. While dominating the centre console is Chevrolet's 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, smartphone integration, DAB radio, Bose audio system and GM's OnStar driver assistance and wi-fi system.

Upgrade to 3LT and you will find suede covered A-pillars and Nappa leather upholstery, while the 1000 Grand Sport Collector Edition models come with a unique Watkins Glen gray exterior and carbonfibre addendum on the outside, while inside is trimmed with Alcantara and Tension blue leather panels alongside numerous retro production number plaques.

The Grand Sport also is available with Chevrolet's Z07 Performance pack which adds tuned adaptive suspension, a more prominent rear spoiler, front winglets, gray brake calipers and carbonfibre splitter, diffusers and spoiler for a cool £10,350.


460bhp Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray

In these times of forced induction and downsizing, it’s a pretty lazy petrol motor that produces just 75bhp per litre. But that figure gives you some idea of the big-heartedness of the Corvette’s 6.2-litre V8.

It fires to a lazy, throbby idle that – as in the Vauxhall VXR8 – emits less of a baritone rumble than you might expect, due to the demands of modern emissions and noise regulations. But there’s character here, no question; give the throttle a positive prod and it sends the Corvette’s body rocking mildly.

An 'eLSD' allows the car to turn in with less understeer but drive out with optimum traction and attitude control

Engaging gears and using the medium-weight, long-throw clutch is a refreshingly physical experience, but the powertrain is incredibly tractable – as you’d expect. Frankly, were it limited to only second and fourth gears, the Corvette would still get along quite nicely.

As it is, we coaxed it from 0-60mph in 4.4sec – 0.2sec behind the claim, but the fact that we figure two up, with lots of fuel on board, and take our measurements from complete rest, rather than a one-foot roll-out, accounts for that.

Either way, this car doesn’t lack performance. If the engine were in a different place and there was a dual-clutch automatic gearbox to join the launch control (which performed little better than our own feet), you’d probably be looking at a 0-60mph number that starts with a three. As it is, 100mph comes up in comfortably less than 10 seconds and the standing quarter mile in 12.6sec. Premier league performance, in other words.

Premier League flexibility, too. Some of our testers found the throttle response a little slow, but that’s to be expected with an engine of this capacity. Keep it in the mid-range and it’s perfectly responsive, and it’s here that the sound comes alive.

We’d prefer it if the gearbox had six well spaced ratios that could be more easily selected, rather than a seventh that is too easy to catch when you’re after fifth, but by and large it is positive enough. And there’s no denying that the leggy gearing improves touring economy (seventh is worth almost 50mph per 1000rpm), as does the fact that the engine can slip into cylinder shut-down mode on a part-throttle cruise. Not imperceptibly, unfortunately.


Corvette C7 Stingray hard cornering

The handling of a car of this width will always be compromised in the UK by dint of it being left-hand drive. It places the driver in the worst part of the road and makes the car feel less wieldy than it otherwise might.

Although the Corvette rides well, which in turn makes it a reasonable cruiser, it never quite shrinks around you with familiarity, while the impression that the suspension has been softened to mask some body flex is still present, too.

The Z51 package includes firmer chassis rates, wider wheels and tyres and uprated brakes

Steering that’s too quick to respond off the straight-ahead (though not too rapid overall, at 2.5 turns from lock to lock) does it few favours, either. But getting a car on to a wide circuit usually overcomes these obstacles.

In the Corvette’s case, it does, to an extent. On a large, fast track, this car comes into its element. The engine makes the right (and extremely loud) noises, the body is well controlled over crests and bumps and the handling follows a predictable, friendly natured, front-engined, rear-driven path, with understeer quelled by a trailing brake or throttle and oversteer induced by getting on the gas early.

It’s impressively capable and there’s plenty of grip, as evidenced by it holding 1.15g through a corner on our handling circuit. Even so, sudden body movements can, at times, make this feel like a 1570kg car. And when the Corvette does start sliding, it’s not always the smoothest at pulling itself straight again. On narrower tracks, or on the road, the car’s size and its steering wheel location never quite leave the back of your mind, either.

The Stingray’s track-tuned chassis makes it an impressive drive on the right circuit — one that is open, fast and accommodating to wider, longer-legged machines. MIRA’s Dunlop circuit isn’t really that kind of track, but even here the Corvette demonstrated very high and well balanced grip levels, fine body control and stability under braking and enduring stopping power.

The precise and controlled handling inspires lots of confidence up to about nine-tenths effort levels. Select Race in the traction control’s Track sub-menu and you’ll find the electronic driver aids are both effective and fairly unintrusive.

Turn everything off, though, and the car’s manners change a bit. Power-on, mid-corner oversteer is to be expected, but it isn’t as controllable as it might be, with the steering weighting up with some malevolence as the car starts to yaw and the breakaway accelerating quite abruptly. More difficult still is the way it exits a slide. We suspect the engine mounts are quite flexible to improve refinement, but that means the engine shifts on them as you throttle off, which unsettles the car.

Braking is excellent in the dry and acceptable enough in the wet, given the ultra-low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.


Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray

The traditional criticism of a pond-crossed Corvette is that it’s very expensive compared with the car GM sells in the US. At face value, this remains an issue (at the time of writing, less than £35,000 would be sufficient to meet this car’s home-market asking price), but it’s never quite as simple as that.

Another way of looking at it is that you’re getting an awful lot of naturally aspirated V8 for your £61,520. Matching its power in Porsche or Jaguar format requires a significantly larger investment.

We averaged 22.1mpg during testing; Chevrolet claims an average of 23.5mpg

Running costs are seldom a key part of the equation at this level, but it’s worth mentioning that the car’s unstressed 32.7mpg touring economy figure was only a little worse than the last Porsche 911 Carrera we road tested and Jaguar a little better than the Jaguar F-Type R coupé.

The Corvette’s CO2 emissions are predictably dirtier than either at 279g/km, although the 255g/km VED ceiling means it sits in the same band M as the Jaguar regardless.


4 star Corvette C7 Stingray

If you were asked to predict what the Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray would be like based purely on its on-paper specification and how it looks, our bet is that you would not be wide of the mark. It’s a large, old-school supercar with a brawny naturally aspirated engine, a manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive.

Sounds very traditional, and it is, to an extent, but it comes with an interior which, while not causing sleepless nights in much of Germany, is a quantum leap over that of the model it replaces.

Still big and brash, but so much better than you'd ever expect. A contender, and no mistake

There is fine practicality and reasonable fuel economy, too, and allied to this is a driving experience that is rewarding and engaging, and not without some sophistication.

There’s plenty of ability here, and it is greatly enjoyable if you can find the right places to deploy it.

For now, however, the Porsche 911 remains the act to follow. It's less powerful than the Corvette in S specification, but plainly better.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.